May 16, 2018 – P.J. O’Rourke, a Midwestern Baby Boomer, a 1960s child turned libertarian-Republican man, doesn’t mince words when he talks politics. The former Rolling Stones journalist doesn’t care for government or politicians, on either side.
“There is plenty of folly to go around,” said O’Rourke, a featured speaker at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s upcoming 2018 Annual Meeting and Conference, June 21-22, at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva. “The most pronounced, inherent absurdities in our political system have nothing to do with partisanship.”
O’Rourke, who has written 19 books on various topics – including politics, cars, and economics (two reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list) – is also contributing editor of the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine.
His latest book, How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016, provides insight on the 2016 election, with O’Rourke’s take on how the hell it happened.
“The election of 2016 was terrible because it wasn’t an election, it was a rebellion,” O’Rourke wrote in a Weekly Standard article, The Revolt Against the Elites, adapted from the book. “The war is not between Republicans and Democrats or between conservatives and progressives. The war is between the frightened and what they fear. It is being fought by the people who perceive themselves as controlling nothing.”
Ready or Not, Here He Comes
“The election of 2016 was terrible because it wasn’t an election, it was a rebellion,” says political satirist P.J. O’Rourke, a featured speaker at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s upcoming Annual Meeting and Conference.
O’Rourke penned his latest book after covering the 2016 election, featuring Democrat Hillary Clinton against Republican Donald Trump (if you forgot). Trump won, despite a not-so-resounding Clinton endorsement from O’Rourke, who has written and spoken many words to describe his distaste for the Democratic Party and its leaders.
"I am endorsing Hillary, and all her lies and all her empty promises," O'Rourke said on National Public Radio (NPR) in 2016, while covering the election. “It's the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she's way behind in second place. She's wrong about absolutely everything, but she's wrong within normal parameters."
Via telephone interview, O’Rourke provided his take on the U.S. political system, post-election. “We have two political parties in the United States,” he said. “We have the silly party and we have the stupid party. It’s not always easy to tell which is which.”
In Parliament of Whores (1991), a No. 1 bestseller, O’Rourke was more descriptive of the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, in his view.
“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn,” O’Rourke wrote. “Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it."
Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
The two-sided jabbing has led to excellent reviews: “Even if you do not agree with him, it is no wonder O’Rourke is the most quoted living writer in the Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations,” reporter Paul Harris wrote in an article for The Guardian, titled “P.J. O’Rourke – The Rightwinger it’s OK for Lefties to Like.”
“Certainly O'Rourke – like many in the Tea Party – can be just as witheringly critical of elements of the Republican party as he can the Democrats,” Harris wrote in 2010, after O’Rourke published, Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards.
“He has long embraced a social liberalism and freewheeling hedonism that is at odds with many Republican leaders (at least in their public lives).”
O’Rourke, the H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute, is a regular panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me, and editor-in-chief of American Consequences, a web magazine that launched in 2017, exploring issues in American finance.
Seasoned Political Reporter, Satirist
In his early days, O’Rourke worked for National Lampoon, rising to editor-in-chief in 1978. From 1985 to 2000, he was the foreign affairs desk chief for Rolling Stone, and one of three writers to interview Bill Clinton before the 1992 election. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, such as Car & Driver, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Esquire, American Spectator, and Forbes.
In the rest of what follows, O’Rourke – whose knowledge of politics, history, and global affairs rivals his wit as a humorist – offers a snippet of what he may bring to the AMC. The upcoming occasion reminds of him of his talk to a group of lawyers 18 years ago.
“It happened to be at the hanging chad moment. Lawyers were much in the news,” O’Rourke said. “With George W. Bush, we had the first president who was litigated into office. With Donald Trump, we may have the first president who is litigated out of it.”
What was the political environment like when you were coming up?
Well, I was a child of the 60s, a Midwestern child of the 60s. We were pretty flaky, not as flaky as the coastals. We could never achieve that degree of flakiness being from the Midwest and all. We were just modestly flaky. But I was very much carried along in the whole 60s new-left, anti-war stuff. It wasn’t until the early 70s when I was in graduate school and stayed on the East Coast that I began to see, specifically it was the whole Weather Underground-Bernardine Dohrn, the bombings sort of stuff – I began to see that there was a really ugly underbelly to this idealism.
Everybody praises the idealism of the 60s but they forget the violence. There were a number of things that caught my attention, not just the college kids blowing up things. There were the riots in Detroit, and elsewhere of course. But Detroit was close to home. We had some riots in Toledo but they were junior riots. All sorts of things. Drug use, heedless sexual promiscuity … it all led to tears before bedtime.
An Afternoon with P.J. O’Rourke at the State Bar Annual Meeting and Conference
Political satirist P.J. O’Rourke is the luncheon plenary speaker, June 21 (day one) at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 2018 Annual Meeting and Conference at the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva. The program is sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Diversity & Inclusion Oversight Committee.
Other featured speakers include Chief Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Richard Painter, former chief ethics advisor to President George W. Bush, attorney and author William Domnarski, and Dana Tippin Cutler, the first African-American woman to serve as president of The Missouri Bar (2016-17).
Check out the schedule at-a-glance, which includes a listing of social activities that will take place as attendees earn up to 12 CLE credits. Or just register now!
First-time attendee? Register by May 21 to receive $100 off the full registration price of $359. Returning attendees get $30 off the regular registration rate if registered before May 21, and discounted lodging rates apply with the May 21 early-bird registration.
So how did your own viewpoints evolve or change? How has politics changed?
I became much more libertarian. And I don’t think libertarianism is so much a political ideology as it is a point of view, and that point of view has to do with the sanctity of the individual, the good of the individual, the responsibility of the individual, and I think it’s something that cuts across all political ideologies really.
I will be talking quite a bit about how politics has evolved. I am, and I think a lot of people in your audience will be – again, regardless of their political persuasion – disturbed by this rise in angry populism. It’s not just a right wing thing. We are seeing it on the left too. And we are seeing it in places that I don’t really think you can define as right and left. After all, angry populism has something to do with Islamic terror too.
I view this as very disturbing, and I think it has a lot to do with a bunch of factors coming together, certain failures in the large liberal state as it has grown up, say, since WWII, or since the Depression, certain inadequacies there. But a lot of it has to do with what a fast-moving world we are living in and how disruptive this is to people.
It seems like the teacher at the blackboard is some monster from outer space. And so they have a tendency to turn to the bully at the back of the room to help them out.
And not exclusive to the U.S., right? Where is this angry populism headed?
Heck no. Look at Brexit, the election of Pierre Trudeau in Canada, Hindu nationalism in India, disturbances in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The Buddhists, of all people, are persecuting others. The rise of Putin, the sort of neo-Maoism of Xi Jinping. The Philippines, my gosh, this guy Duterte. Ya, we are seeing this all over the place.
It’s probably heading nowhere. If you look through the history of the United States, this is by no means the first eruption of nativist, populist anger from the right or the left. There was William Jennings Bryant, Cross of Gold. There was the No Nothings – I love the No Nothings – at least they came right out and admitted they knew nothing.
People say, ‘we are so polarized in this country.’ I say, ‘we are?’ How about 1861. That was polarized. I’m not seeing Fort Sumter take any incoming right now. These things flare up and they die down. It can be pretty unpleasant when they do flare up, but they don’t usually last too long.